What Type of Psychologist Works with Medical Patients?

Reader’s Question

Please could you tell me about those Psychologists who work with patients who are undergoing surgery? I have seen patients being referred to Psychologists to make sure they are psychologically stable enough to undergo the surgery. Also I’ve seen people referred to make sure they are undergoing surgery, for example reconstructive surgery or gender reassignment, for the correct reasons — for example, to make sure that someone undergoing rhinoplasty is not doing it to paper over some deeper self-esteem or body image issues. I haven’t a clue what these people are called. Health Psychologists?

Thank you.

Psychologist’s Reply

Many types of psychologists work with medical patients — both before and after the surgery. For example:

  • Pre-surgery screening is often provided by Clinical Psychologists (that’s me!). As you describe, the Clinical Psychologist often provides pre-surgery personality screening for procedures such as gender change, rhinoplasty, weight-loss/bariatric surgery, cosmetic procedures, subcutaneous nerve stimulators, etc. Clinical Psychogists often deal with the psychiatric issues that may hinder, complicate, or prevent surgery and recovery.
  • After surgery, many patients are seen for follow-up by Health Psychologists who work to combine healthy psychology and recovery with medical recovery. Health Psychologists often conduct groups, training, and individual follow-up for weight-loss surgery, gender change, etc. Health Psychologists often provide treatment for nonsurgical issues such as diabetes, epilepsy, cancer recovery, head-injury, Alzhemier’s, etc.
  • Patients with neurological disorders or surgery are often seen by Neuropsychologists. While a CT Scan or MRI may show a neurological injury, a Neuropsychologist often provides assessment of how the injury might impact on the patient’s thinking abilities, ability to work, competency, etc. Neuropsychologists are especially important in cases of head injury.
  • Returning a medical patient to work often involves a Rehabilitation Psychologist who often fits a job placement with the medical condition. This psychologist knows you shouldn’t be working around fast moving machines, saws, blades, and equipment when you’ve lost an eye — you’ve also lost your depth perception!

As you can see, a variety of psychologists may be involved when a patient moves through pre-surgery screening to returning to work. There are many more careers in psychology. These four often work with medical and surgery patients.

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